on the record with...

Clif Hanger

The Freeze

February 2008

By Jillian Abbene
(SugarBuzz Wash DC/Richmond)

SugarBuzz Magazine

For those who are not yet acquainted with The Freeze, perhaps mostly the younger generation, forget about buying the newest punk rock mag. You’re wasting your time on many of those bands that are a dime-a-dozen. They emulate each other rather than create their own new sound. To understand how The Freeze has become one of the most influential punk bands from the roots, go get yourself some coffee, sit down, and read my interview. Harboring out of Boston, with seven albums under their belt, and 27 amazing years of rustled-up defiance, not even the demise of substance abuse, jail, and changing band members can beat this band down--or even kill it. Further, despite being underrated, overlooked and misunderstood, The Freeze are still kickin’ it with a re-released CD of, ‘Rabid Reaction,’ and yes, it’s a keeper.

Having had the privilege to witness a great live performance at its best at the NYC Unity Fest in Brooklyn last July, it can best be summed up as real entertainment--not just for punk rock’s sake, but for the passion of spontaneity, but for the freedom of expression in a pure, morphed-primal and mesmerizing vibe. It created such an impact not only as a spectator but as a writer. Realizing this, there was now a burning desire to snag an interview. Let me explain a part of The Freeze’s set that will lead me up to my current interview and give a better understanding of what The Freeze and Clif Hanger are about. So read on --

First, let’s flash back to the The NYC Unity Fest. Although an impressive line-up, it still didn’t leave me a clue of what to expect from the Fest let alone from The Freeze. I must stop here and give credit to where credit is due to all the bands that participated -- Electric Frankenstein, L.E.S. Stitches, Street Dogs, The Freeze, Toxic Reasons, etc… and among all the other bands that played with heart and raw guts, and certainly you just don’t see this everywhere.

The Freeze is to play just before the headlining band. Near the end of the song, ‘Bloodlights’, the lead guitarist breaks into this sharp guitar bridge, foot-pedaling from one riff to another,--holding on to the long squeals. Clif, the lead vocalist, throws in political banter reminding us about how we are all being fucked by the government and as a symbol, holds up a stuffed Minnie Mouse rag doll with a noose around its neck and a Superman-style letter “T” on its chest. Holding the flimsy doll upside down, reaches into his pocket, and lights the doll’s head afire.

Without requiring verbal instructions to the audience, lighters appear from all sides of the stage as if participating in a lighting ritual. Through fuzz-drones of guitar and drum, the doll is slowly trailing smoke and flame. Clif is now on his back, rubbing the burning doll on top of him. With his shirt aflame and billowing smoke encompassing the entire stage, the overlapping guitar chords chime, the drums are pounding with the bass, and vocals layer in mounting intensity. With the half-aflame doll turned upside down, Clif grabs the legs and rips the doll in half! Sparked flames fly into the air and scatter the stage in clustered flurries.

With the next song seeping in with, ‘Token Bones,’ Clif appears as if the half-destroyed doll is simply not enough. He grabs the “T” on the doll’s chest and rips it apart dispersing gobs of sparked confetti wafting into the air and stage. A host of emotions develop: I am fixated by the fire that creates brooding angst. When the doll is ripped in half, I can best describe the feeling equated to someone who has stabbed me emotionally right above my solar plexus. Further, to finish it off, a sense of released jubilation and freedom complete the show for me as the “T” on the doll is ripped out and confetti is spewing out carelessly. Now THAT’S performance art!


Claiming as being the longest running Boston punk band to date, lead vocalist for the band, Clif Hanger, is the only original band member. From single-handedly fanning a mere spark to a full blaze; The Freeze coined the phrase, “This is Boston, Not L.A.,” years ago, as their entitled CD, but also as a nation-wide statement, and slam-pasted Boston on the map for spear-heading east coast hardcore. Through piece-meal telephone conversations and emails, I’ve been able to devise a compiled current interview which has been long overdue.

Jillian: Let’s first talk about events in chronological order. There is a story behind the 1982 album, “This is Boston, Not L.A.,” that obviously had the Boston scene and The Freeze misunderstood after the release. Can you explain this?

Clif: “This is Boston, Not L.A.,” was not meant to be taken as an invitation for competition between scenes such as Boston vs. NYC vs. DC—it was really about, “be yourselves—DIY.” If you dance the same and dress the same, it won’t be long until you are the same…then there’s nothing new and you’ll be to blame.

The song’s use as the LP’s title track was a wrongly directed yet very successful marketing ploy. In the end it was used as an excuse to give the jock-punks new enemies to fight with. Following its release the scene became clique-filled and divisive. Bands such as SSD refused to be included on it as they viewed the label which released it as a major label and saw the bands on it as semi-sellouts, (which is about as silly as it could get.) As Modern Method was only a small step up from our own Rebel Records, the label we released ‘I Hate Tourists’ on, Modern Method was the only label in Boston at the time that was backing new bands with new material. This was pre-Taang Records and not nearly as major as what Taang’s had developed into. By the way, if anyone would like a CD of SSD’s material it’s available on Taang--the irony of it all…

Jillian: Didn’t you say the 45 rpm’s of The Freeze are currently being sold on E-bay for $500 a pop?! (Which is absolutely ridiculous), and what’s this about you not owning your own personal copy of, “I Hate Tourists?”

Clif: It was. I’m not sure what it goes for now since its re-release on Schizophrenic Records in early 2007. I had 2 copies left: one copy in each of the colored sleeves as well as a test- pressing signed by all the members who played on it. Being in perpetual legal trouble and deciding I needed more professional representation in court then what a public defender could offer, I chose to hire my own attorney for each of the charges I faced, one after another. At $1500-$5000 a case I had to come up with the money any way I could, which resulted in my having to sell my last copies of the single. When even that wasn’t going to be enough money, I felt I had to continue shoplifting (etc.) which kept the cycle going round and round. At least the money the 45’s brought in (the test pressing actually sold for $650) which did help to keep me out of jail, at least for the time being.

Jillian: I thought there were other bands that played covers…which I would think is a great compliment.

Clif: The Unseen pulled off, “Talking Bombs” amazingly well. I like the gang vocals they added at the end. It filled in a bit of a gap that went unnoticed at the time. The Bollweevils did a kick-ass version of, “Trouble If You Hide,” on the CD split, “A Deadly Duo,” we did with them back in 1996 or so. I believe it’s still available on Dr. Strange Records.

There have been so many others: Apocalypse Hoboken’s version of, “Misguided Memories”, Bastard Squad doing, “Broken Bones,” (I’ve been sent copies of at least a dozen other band’s versions of this song, and these are the only ones I KNOW about). I’ve seen/heard/been sent copies of “Idiots At Happy Hour,” “Violent Arrest,” “Warped Confessional,” “Sacrifice Not Suicide,” and “American Town,” (acoustic even!) The list goes on and on. I feel bad that I can’t remember the names of all the bands who have taken the interest, time and effort to bring new life to these songs. Do I mind if a band wants to record a song of ours? Absolutely not! It’s one of the greatest compliments I could ever be given. If there are any bands out there, reading this, who have a recorded cover of one of our songs, I’d love to hear it. Please send me a copy! It does go to show you that music transcends generations.

Jillian: Truly your style has been developed early on with the ‘fuck authority,’ attitude, especially in relation to supporting the underdogs—which I personally can relate. Who were your underdogs and are there underdogs of today?

Clif: The 1960’s civil rights movement i.e. Abbie Hoffman primed the “Us vs. Them” mentality for me personally. I wrote the lyrics from the beginning and my writing style began as one of a personal storytelling critic of the society I was forced to live in. This all changed completely on, “Misery Loves Company.” It was on this release that I began to look inward and attempt to identify my character flaws, examining the ways in which I may have hurt those around me. I lost my younger brother to cancer. I realized that I was continuously losing more and more of my closest friends, band members, family bonds, emotional attachments, as well as the freedom to make the choices in life I would have been able to make in the not to distant past. Many of the lyrics on, “Crawling Blind” explore these losses and the reasons why.

I continued to sell and use Methamphetamine, play ever more dangerous games of harassing the police and generally become a person virtually nobody found comfortable being around. It was the early 1990’s and people I knew had begun betting on how long I had left to live. Nothing seemed to shock me anymore. Not the multiple suicides of people I knew, my own physical and mental deterioration, my criminal record--which was 6 pages and growing…nothing.

I think what finally happened is I realized how lonely I’d become. There was nobody left who wanted to play with me anymore. I was a disaster beginning to happen. I began to write about it on songs such as, “Streets Of Distraction”, “Terminal,” “Talking Bombs,” “Bloodlights,” “Killing Me,” “Short Way Down,” “Freak Show,” “Chemical Fed Compulsion,” etc… I was an addict. I don’t mean a drug addict. I was addicted to chaos and had lost impulse control. Lyrically this brought me to the mentally disturbed imagery which dominates, “Freak Show”.

After that came our “Kill ‘Em All,” album, “One False Move”. That was 1999. Bill Close, my songwriting partner of 17 years quit at the end of that recording session. With suicide and death on my mind so often then it makes sense now that within a year, or in early 2000, I hit the bottom. I got busted on meth and a dozen other charges, lost my daughter to permanent adoption (thankfully she’s with my sister and brother in-law and my wife and I can see her whenever we want!); however, the felony charges fucked up my chances of getting my license in Social Work. I’d just gotten my B.S. and was working on my Masters. My wife had left me, and I was facing 6 months in jail. I lived through it all, I think…

Jillian: These days are political…and with just cause, I presume. Hell, I don’t think this is a punk rock thing anymore, with a no-tolerance stance on both sides of the political spectrum. What do you think about our country’s situation?

Clif: 1st Amendment---all but useless. Bush has established “free speech zones” for protesters to gather, often miles away from the protest site. NSA monitored email, cell phone calls and regular phone calls are instantly monitored if a certain key word is spoken, such as, ‘Bush, Assassination, Bin-Laden, Dirty-Bomb, Al Qaeda, terrorist…’ I say most of these words in the course of most of my conversations, so at least I know I’m under surveillance.

2nd Amendment: effectively rendered useless as those most likely to buy a gun in opposition to government tyranny and oppression have had their opportunity taken from them. A convicted felon, ever had a restraining order against you? On… and fucking on…

4th Amendment: probably in the saddest shape of all. Warrantless searches came attached to the Orwellian named, “The Patriot Act”. Pot dealers can be charged as domestic terrorists. Libraries are being forced to turn over an individual’s “reading list”. Before 9/11 “they” were the “suspects”. Post 9/11, “we” are the suspects. If anyone still believes the Bush administration’s story of the events of 9/11, congratulations, your lobotomy was successful.

I remember flying out of Logan Airport recently, on a flight to Austin where our summer 2007 tour would begin, and witnessing first hand the bullshit everyone has to put up with at our airports. Shoes, belts, fucking everything had to be taken off. I had half of my bath items seized because they were .4 of an ounce over THEIR size limit. I asked “them” what was happening to all these items they were seizing and was told it was none of my business. I continued, suggesting “they” at least could donate the stuff to homeless shelters. This would be the first of three times I would be forced aside and questioned as to what I was doing, who with, where was I going etc…

The second time was more fun! It was the first time I saw an actual, “Homeland Security” thug in the flesh. I approached him and said, “Excuse me sir, may I ask you a question?” “What?!” it barked back. “I’m just curious if you’ve ever seen a photo of the plane that hit The Pentagon on 9/11?” “Why?!” it barked back louder. “Because none of us have…” That got me a 20-minute interrogation by other barking “Homeland Security” thugs. A minute or so after being sent on my way I approached another one and said, “Excuse me, may I ask you a question about what happened on 9/11? SORRY I forgot you all have gag orders concerning 9/11.” This led to a 30-minute Q & A session which almost made me miss my flight. What do I think of the state of our country? Extrapolate my experiences at Logan that one day and I think it’s pretty easy to figure out what my opinion is.

Jillian: Damn, Clif, you need to be careful! However I do like the fact that you had the balls to ask those questions to the “Homeland Security” thugs. They haven’t a clue on all the details on what’s really going on either. I suppose they never received those ‘acorns of knowledge…’

By the way, so tell me how Edward Gorey became involved in the song, ‘Alien Heads?’ You mentioned to me that he was a friend; however, how did the cross-over from art to music come about? Obviously, both of you lived in the same town, yet I presume lived very different lives, so I am curious on how this happened?

Clif: I’d known Edward Gorey for 5 or 6 years before our collaboration on, “One False Move.” Edward Gorey’s tastes ran all over the map. One day he’d be reading an ancient tome on, “The Eccentricities of an Elderly Victorian Madam,” or whatever, and the next he’d have an adolescent based novella on, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” He was a very shy person, yet could be very opinionated. I remember the day I asked him if he was aware that I sang for a band. He said no, then asked me about it. Wishing I’d never brought up the subject, I told him that he probably wouldn’t like it, “It’s a hard, fast, yet still melodic form of Punk Rock”. I couldn’t think of any bands he might recognize from the genre so I mentioned, “The Ramones, Green Day, The Dead Kennedys.” I’ll never forget him answering as if he’d been slightly insulted, “I listen to those bands.” “You do?” I dumbly replied. “Of course, why wouldn’t I?” That was how the project began.

Jillian: I would have never guessed you two putting collaboration together. Honestly, I didn’t know his name until you educated me here. Do you wonder what might have happened if things were different in your past? – any regrets? I’m not referring to your past addictions here because well, addiction is addiction, but any unfinished business you wish you could complete or finish? For example, I spoke to a musician once who told me he wished he had a solo CD.

Clif: I know that I’m expected to reminisce about some unrealized dream, the alternate outcome of a situation if I’d handled it differently, or whatever… Sure, I think about that past a lot but what’s done is done, and I’m trying harder not to dwell on what I can’t change. Eventually I hope to publish a book of short stories and eventually a novel. I’m fortunate enough to have the National Book Award nominated author, Alexander Theroux, not only as a friend but as a mentor. I’m working on putting together six “Theroux approved” short stories. Once I have those, Alex will shop them for me to the dozens of publishers and agents he knows. Maybe I’ll be able to write myself out of my stagnant prison of my own making.

Jillian: You will definitely have to send me a copy when you are finished. I’d be interested in reading them, if you don’t mind. -- In keeping step with the previous question, was there ever a real defining point in your life (before and/or after kicking drugs) that you wish to mention? Grant it, your punk rock attitude still remains; however, is there something that has changed you for the better? -- Is there any difference between Clif Hanger from the ‘Salad days’ and Clif Hanger these days?

Clif: I think that a combination of losing my younger brother, my experiences with the band and my 6 months in jail all led me in the direction of Social Work, and more specifically, counseling Adolescents at Risk. To begin with, I certainly was one, and I was one who could have benefited from some honest advice from someone I respected. The problem was I could never find a person I felt I could trust. I don’t think there’s an age group that I understand better, or an age group which I hope I could convince that they could safely put their trust in me.

Jillian: What is the most prevalent and/or craziest situation The Freeze has experienced? Go ahead, entertain me….

Clif: I’m losing my linguistic coherence, but I’d have to say it was when we were stopped at the Canadian border and had various drugs and weapons confiscated. This led to each of us being strip searched individually. I had a ¼ ounce of meth bagged and rolled under my toes in my sock. I was sweaty and stunk from the drive and not having slept in 3 nights. I remember being naked except for that last sock, and looking up at the Canadian Officer and saying, “Sir I’m sorry about the smell I…” He stopped me mid-sentence, put his fingers over his nose and, waving his hand in the air, said, “I know, put your fucking clothes back on and get out of here.” Safe again, we were told we had to stay in a holding area until morning, we were not allowed into Canada, and that we were to drive directly home at that time. We weren’t alone there. About 50 other people slept on benches and floors waiting for morning and their turn to leave. None of us slept. Instead we got in a good half dozen games of Scrabble. A few almost turned violent but we managed to behave.

Jillian: If I understand correctly, you briefly mentioned that there is a new comprehensive CD/DVD being launched this year called, “27 Years Of Defiance” on Beer City Records? Are these re-releases of all the songs to date? And of course I have to ask when and how can I purchase the CD?!

Clif: It’s a 30 song, ‘Best of’ and includes two new songs. “New Eyes” and “Somebody’s Been Bleeding.” The packaged DVD is shot at a great show we played at Emo’s in Austin, TX with The Riverboat Gamblers in the Summer of 2007.

Jillian: So what’s in store for The Freeze for 2008 and the near future? I mean, would you be willing to tour outside of the New England area to perhaps play down south here in Richmond, Virginia? (for those who wonder where that is…it’s 2 hours south of Washington DC).

Clif: Once “27 YEARS OF DEFIANCE” is released and our lineup is secure, we will plan a full U.S. tour as well as a 3rd headlining trip through Europe. In Fall 2008, we will be going back into the studio to record our first batch of new material since, “One False Move,” came out in 1999. Then the tour cycle will repeat and so on.

In closing I would like to thank The Freeze, Marc Thalasitis and of course, Clif Hanger for being so patient—despite the painstaking communication breakdowns on both our parts, but realizing that the end result is sweet and with no regrets.



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